Since the Great Recession officially ended in June 2009, economic recovery has been barely perceptible for the majority of Americans. Unemployment rates remain high, and poverty rates are climbing. Today, 18% of American families with children under 18, and 30% of single mothers, live in poverty. For single moms with children under 5, the poverty rate has increased to 48%.
Through 2008 and the first half of 2009, men suffered greater job losses and higher unemployment rates than women, leading some in the media to label it a “mancession”. But a different story has unfolded since then: women are becoming increasingly vulnerable to economic instability and poverty. As men are slowly returning to work, women are continuing to lose jobs; and all the while, ongoing state, federal and local government budget cuts are shredding the social safety net.
The weak economy compounds the workplace inequities that women have faced throughout their careers. Although women’s participation in the workforce and share of jobs have increased over the past several decades, women still face disproportionately low pay and limited access to essential benefits, including health insurance, retirement plans, and paid leave. Insufficient policies that disadvantage women also hurt the economic security of local families.
Nationally, men earn $3.00 per hour more in wages than do women at the median. In Washington, the wage gap is even wider: men earn $5.00 more per hour. The gap today is wider than it was 17 years ago.
Women of all ages, races and education levels are earning less than their male counterparts. In Washington state, 40% of male earners made more than $50,000 in annual earnings in 2010, while 80% of female earners made less than $50,000 per year. One fourth of Washington’s working women earned less than $10,000 annually.
Women also face reduced eligibility for workplace benefits, as employers are less likely to provide benefits to low-wage and part-time workers. And during retirement, women continue to suffer the disadvantages of their working years. Due to lower pay, inadequate benefits, and time away from work for family care, women are less likely to have sufficient retirement savings, and will receive lower Social Security benefits. Moreover, women live longer than men on average, which further increases their risk of poverty in retirement.
These factors put women at a greater economic disadvantage than their male counterparts; and in tough economic times, women are particularly vulnerable. Presently, women are reporting greater difficulty than men when it comes to affording food, utilities, transportation, and housing expenses. Women are also more likely to have doubled up in recent months, and are less likely to have received a raise or gotten a better job.